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Hi-Fi '98 Show Report

Stacey Spears

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Hi-Fi 98 (Los Angeles) has come and gone. Other Internet magazines have published show coverage, so what has taken us until now?  Well, the best is always saved for last! The truth is, sometimes the day job takes up a little more time than you would like. The Hi-Fi show is getting smaller and smaller each year, and this year a lot of companies did not show up with booths. They just wandered around as spectators.

One of the things I really missed about this year's show was the dessert that Mel Schilling's wife makes (Camelot Technology). I guess I will have to wait until CES to enjoy some of those delicious treats.

Dolby Digital

Dolby was on hand showing off just how good DD really is and gave us a sneak peek of DD on Satellite (DSS). They had the "Revel Gem" home theater speaker package and a tiny little LCD projector. The projector was used to display some PowerPoint slides. They were playing a 16-bit 44 kHz source that ran as is and also passing through their DD encoder, in real time. They would switch back and fourth as the music was playing just to show how effective DD can be. It was not transparent but still, it is very impressive. I guess lossless compression is down the road a bit.

To top the demo off, they proceeded to play some music on DVD. After a minute, the presenter removed the DVD and the music was still playing. Hmmm, looks like they pulled a little trick on us. The DVD was never really playing, and the whole demo was being beamed down from DSS.  Note, DSS will NOT be broadcasting music. Dolby made that clear. Beginning July 1, 1998, DSS will be broadcasting 5 movies on PPV in DD (letterboxed I might add): "Gattaca", "Scream 2", "Starship Troopers", "Tomorrow Never Dies", and one more I can't remember off hand.

Hsu Research

The last time Hsu showed off their stuff was at the Hi-Fi show in New York. So, knowing how Dr. Po Ser Hsu likes to fool the crowd by having a big sub on display while secretly having a much smaller version generating the seismic activity, I was on the lookout. I sat down in the chair just behind a small table. In the front of the room, there was a BIG sub with a TNS sub on each side. As the CD began to spin, I felt the hairs on my leg stand up and my pant legs shutter. I noticed a small black box below the table with a port on the left side. Aha, I had him I thought. I put my hand over the port and much to my surprise, nothing was coming out.  Well, I guess I was wrong and figured it must be the big boy up front.  After the demo stopped, he said the one causing Kate, the Cal Tech engineer, to go on alert was in fact the little one below the table. It seems there are two ports, one on each side. You have to option of sealing off one port to change the tuning frequency. Way cool!

Entech

I have been mentioning for months that a new high quality Audio/Video switcher would be coming to market. The A/V Director is now available, and I should have one in the next week to begin evaluating. The unit offers 4 S-Video inputs and 4 Composite Inputs. It also has the ability to learn your remote. I will save the details for the official review. Also on display was their two new "Number Cruncher" DACs. They introduced 3 additional products, including one I am really excited about. They are calling it the Component Video Integrator. It will take composite or S-Video and convert it to component. You might be wondering why this would be useful. Well, its NTSC decoder could possibly be better than the one in your current TV. Until an actual review is done, I will not really know for sure, but I am looking forward to reviewing it.

DWIN Electronics

If you remember our CES 98 report, I was really excited when I made a visit to the DWIN booth. Well, things were even better this time. Their TranScanner, which was going to debut for under $10,000, is now going for $7,500! Relatively speaking, that is a bargain. You can dial it in to exactly what your project needs eliminating ALL scan lines. It also includes an improved film detection algorithm. They were showing it with their HDP-500 projector and using "The Fifth Element" as demo material. I want one of these! They also announced a new line doubler, the LD-10, which includes the new film detection logic that is available in the TranScanner. The doubler is about half the price of the TranScanner, but if you are going to spend the money on a data grade projector, I can't see any reason not to spend the extra $$$ and get the TranScanner.

I have to take a moment out here because, as I write this, I am watching "The Postman" on DVD. Man does this DVD look fantastic! The detail and colors and amazing! Hey, I like the film too! If I only had the HDP-500 and a TranScanner, I would be in Video Nirvana!

Meridian

The biggest news at the show, in my opinion, came from a Meridian Press conference. When Bob Stuart mentioned lossless compression, jaws dropped. Meridian Lossless Packing, or MLP for short, is something that Meridian has spent the last few years developing.

Since this is an Internet magazine, I am going to make the assumption that you all know what PK-Zip is. Well, you could think of MLP as PK-Zip for audio. It compresses, but with no loss of the original data (bits). MLP is currently the ONLY lossless compression on the table for DVD audio. Dolby is handling all of the licensing for MLP, and several chip manufacturers will be including it in next generation chips. MLP supports up to 64 channels of audio and can sample anywhere from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz. It can do 16-bit to 24-bit and anything in between, including 1 bit increments, i.e., 19-bit, etc. This is one of the most impressive technologies to come along in audio in quite a while!

MLP is currently shipping in the 561 and will be added to the 861 and 565 in the coming weeks. So, the 561 was another big piece at the show. I actually mentioned this a year or two ago, and some Meridian dealer got mad at me saying that I should not be mentioning it because it does not exist. Well, it does now! They have combined the 562V and 565 into one chassis. The 561 is set up through the use of their Windows software, which supports NT. You can update the software in the 561 via your PC by flashing it. The 800 DVD machine was looking great, and the 861 was sounding terrific.

Gallo Acoustics

Small speakers with a big sound . . . can you say Gallo! The speakers (called Nucleus) are the size of softballs with the sound the size of, well HUGE! They offer a 2-channel version with a single or dual 10" subwoofer.

The Other Guys

I was saddened when I saw that Toshiba was nowhere to be found. I was looking forward to seeing their new progressive DVD player, but I guess I will have to wait until this fall. Sony and Pioneer had their new players on display. They were not actually working but were just sitting there looking pretty. Sony had their new 7700 DVD player that replaces the 7000, and this unit is equipped with DTS capability. They also had a couple of new TVs on display using their new flat tube. The models KV-32XBR200 ($2,099) and KV-36XBR200 ($2,499) will be available this fall. Pioneer had the THX DV-09, which reminds me of my CLD-97. It is built like a tank and supports DTS. Speaking of DTS, where the heck are those DVDs? C'mon, let's go!

Marantz

They showed a flashy new CD player with a top that raised back to reveal the transport. They had their 42" Plasma Screen (PD-4280) on display. It will be priced the same as the other plasmas at a cool $15,000 this September. I am sorry, but Plasma technology, while very cool, does not come close to a front projector (in my opinion). The DWIN combo mentioned above easily outperforms any Plasma. But, Marantz also had a new high quality audio source that sounded good.

Revel

Revel has created some very esthetically pleasing speakers. The finish is amazing, and so is the sound. To match the audio, Joe Kane set up the video with a new prototype Electrahome projector. In case you are not aware, Electrahome is the same projector that you will find sporting the Vidikron flashy bodies. One display was 720p video courtesy of ABC and DVD. The signal was actually being up-converted to 720p by the Snell and Wilcox Interpolator.

ABC and Fox have adopted 720 as their standard. Sure, 1080i displays more lines, but it also has motion artifacts because it is an interlaced source! Progressive video does not have the motion artifacts that an interlaced picture does, and it produces a brighter picture, it's that simple.

Another Event

There was a little show here in Washington State held at Definitive Audio. This was like a mini Hi-Fi show, and reps were here from several high-end manufacturers. The list included Faroudja, Meridian, Revel, Runco, Stewart Film Screen, Unity Motion, and many more. They were actually broadcasting, in real time, a HDTV signal in the 1080i format. HDTV is really something, but I wish it were all in progressive scan. Unity Motion was responsible for the broadcasts.

This was the 6th annual show for Definitive, but it was my first. The images on the main system were courtesy of a Faroudja doubler, quadrupler, and the Runco DV-1000 projector. The picture quality here should have been better, but they had the detail in its default position, which is too high. Everyone else agreed that the picture looked pasty because of the excessive detail.

In another room, the Faroudja rear projection unit looked stunning, and the detail was dialed in perfectly on that set.

Enough already!

Stacey Spears


Copyright 1998 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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